- By Blake Hounshell
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.
In the last few days, supporters of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria have been circulating a video that they claim shows regime opponents in Syria dumping the bodies of soldiers into the Orontes River in or near Hama, where the Syrian Army is currently engaged in a brutal punitive campaign against civilians who say they’re defending themselves only with rocks and wooden sticks.
Syrian TV has made great hay from the clip, citing it as devastating proof that the protesters are in fact “armed gangs” bent on sowing destruction and chaos and terrorizing law-abiding, patriotic citizens who love their wise leaders.
Here’s the video, which is not for the squeamish, as aired on Russian propaganda channel Russia Today. Someone has added English subtitles to this version:
And here’s CNN’s report on the same clip:
CNN cites a Syrian activist who confirmed the video, but other Syrian activists strongly dispute that it is from Hama. One of them, who goes by the pseudonym Edward E. Dark, summarizes the local coordinating committee’s complaints about the video here:
1) The Assi river has been dry for a month and a half now because the dams at Rastan have not been opened to allow water to flow.
2) There is no such bridge in Hama.
3) There is no background noise whatsoever in the video Not even a splash. Nothing.
4) the way this video was distributed by unknown sources and the timing, suggests that it was released by the regime to justify an attack on Hama. This video was most likely taken in Jisr el Shughur, and shows pro-regime militia disposing on civilian bodies.
They go on to say that after four months, the regime can come up with no valid accusations against Hama, so they have resorted to making some up.
Pro-government Syrians reply that there is such a bridge, located at the coordinates 35.151942,36.733099 in Google Earth, just north of town. Here’s an image someone uploaded to Panoramio:
It’s hard to tell if it’s indeed the same bridge, but the fence is similar to the one in the video. It also appears to be about the right height, but what about the sheer cliffs shown in the video?
And even if it is the same bridge, how can we take the regime’s story at face value? The Syrian government has very little credibility at this point. It’s entirely possible that the bodies shown are those of protesters — they are in civilian garb, after all — and it’s the security forces dumping them into the water. Another point skeptics of the video make is that phrases heard on the recording like “fuck your religion” are words Islamists would be unlikely to use. They point out that in June, Syrian state television told a similar story, claiming that armed gangs “mutilated some of the bodies [of security forces] and threw some into the river” near Jisr al-Shughour, but never provided any persuasive evidence.
In the end, it’s simply impossible to confirm either side of this story without being able to report freely from Syria, something the Syrian government manifestly does not allow. Meanwhile, there is plenty of evidence that a massacre is underway in Hama, with tanks now occupying the city’s central square and civilians reportedly fleeing in large numbers. The overwhelming bulk of protests in Syria have been peaceful, precisely because the activists know that taking up arms would give the regime an excuse to slaughter them — though it’s perfectly capable of fabricating one out of whole cloth.